Who’s in charge of Fresno police department while Chief Paco Balderrama is on leave?

The highest-ranking woman in Fresno Police Department has been put in charge of the agency while the police chief is under investigation for an alleged “inappropriate relationship.”

Deputy Chief Mindy Casto has “operational control” of the department, City Manager Georgeanne White said in an internal email to all members of the Fresno Police Department on Wednesday. In the same email, White announced Chief of Police Paco Balderrama had been placed on paid administrative leave for the duration of the investigation.

Last week, city officials announced Balderrama, 47, has been under investigation since February for an alleged “inappropriate off-duty relationship he was involved in with a non-city employee,” city officials said in a statement. At the center of the city’s investigation is Balderrama’s affair of about two years with the wife of an officer, sources told The Bee.

It’s not immediately clear how long Casto will be in charge or how long the investigation will take. It’s also unclear whether Casto would be selected as an interim police chief should Balderrama be separated from the police department following the investigation.

Fresno Police Department spokesperson Felipe Uribe declined to comment on this story and The Bee’s request for an interview with Casto. He referred questions to city spokesperson Sontaya Rose.

Rose declined to comment on this story and said she was not authorized to comment further beyond the city’s initial June 6 statement confirming the investigation.

In a statement to The Bee, Fresno Police Officer Association President Brandon Wiemiller said: “The FPOA has full faith and confidence in Deputy Chief Casto to carry on the mission of our agency and lead this department.”

Who is Mindy Casto?

Casto is a veteran of the Fresno police force and the highest ranking woman in the department of 900 officers.

According to a March 25, 2022 post on the Fresno Police Department Facebook page, Casto fell in love with law enforcement during a ride-along with Fresno PD when she was 16.

She became a cadet in 1996 and was hired with the department in 1997, the post said. She became a sergeant in 2003.

She was promoted to lieutenant in 2015 — and at the time was the only woman serving as lieutenant in the department. Three years later, she was promoted again to captain and then deputy chief in August 2022.

City data analyzed by The Bee in 2019 found that 76% of the Fresno Police Department was male.

Casto told The Bee in 2019 that being a woman affects how she interacts with her male colleagues. She keeps her workplace relationships professional while sometimes her male colleagues do activities together like golfing or socializing. “I’m not going to hang out and drink beer with them,” she said at the time.

Casto’s husband, Steve, is a sergeant at the department as of 2022, according to Transparent California.

In 2022, Balderrama pledged to bring more gender diversity the force, promising that 30% of officers will be women by 2030. Women make up 12% of sworn officers in the country, and 3% of leadership roles.

Fresno Police Deputy Chief Mindy Casto, second from left, stands next to Police Chief Paco Balderrama, center, at a news conference announcing the department’s 30x30 Pledge, a commitment to improve the representation of women in the police force on Friday, March 25, 2022 in Fresno.
Fresno Police Deputy Chief Mindy Casto, second from left, stands next to Police Chief Paco Balderrama, center, at a news conference announcing the department’s 30x30 Pledge, a commitment to improve the representation of women in the police force on Friday, March 25, 2022 in Fresno.

Casto serves on the board of directors of the Marjaree Mason Center domestic violence prevention shelter, which honored her a Professional Woman of the Year in 2022. That same year, she was chosen as Woman of the Year by District 6 Councilmember Garry Bredefeld.

City declared Mindy Casto Day in 2022

Shortly after her promotion to deputy chief, the city of Fresno, Mayor Jerry Dyer and the Fresno City Council declared Sept. 1, 2022 as “Mindy Casto Day.“

“I probably had the privilege of knowing Mindy the longest because I knew her before she actually came on the police department,” Dyer said at the proclamation. “And the ride-along, I think she’ll say, is the first-ride along she did was with my sister, who’s a Fresno police officer.”

“It is inspiring to see women like you, especially in law enforcement, where we see far and few,” said former Councilmember Esmeralda Soria following the 2022 proclamation. “What is amazing and remarkable about your story is that you stayed in it, and that you have demonstrated courage and leadership, and that now there’s a lot of little girls in this community that can say, ‘Hey, I can be a deputy chief in this great city.’”

“This department and this city has been so good to me over the past 25 plus years, and I look forward to continuing serving the community (and) everybody in it,” Casto said in 2022.

Fresno Bee Reporter Thaddeus Miller contributed to this report.

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